Responsible whale watching
Icelandic whale watching companies have developed a Code of Conduct to try and ensure we watch the whales but do not disturb their behaviour and feeding. Láki Tours was instrumental in helping create the code (see below). This code is not law in Iceland but we hope one day it will be. By using this as a guide to how we approach the whales, the distance, speed and direction we can watch them without disturbance. All whale watching companies in Iceland should be adhering to this code and here at Láki Tours we believe very strongly in responsible whale watching. The code of conduct can be seen below.
Science, research and conservation
Láki Tours is helping to support research by working on photo ID when out on our whale watching tours. Commercial whale watching boats are often on the water seeing the animals more than scientific researchers and so undertaking research while we are out on trips helps us to learn more about the whales we are seeing.
Photo-ID is the main form of research that can be done from a whale watching boat. We take photos of parts of the whales that have unique patterns and scars and using these photos we can identify individuals and learn more about them. Using this benign form of research we can learn more about population sizes, find out about lifespans, calving intervals and migrations, just by taking photos!
Láki Tours guides Marie, Judith and Karl have each created photo ID catalogues of the individual whales we see.
Orcas (killer whales)
Marie Mrusczok has been photographing and studying the orcas seen in Snæfellsnes since 2015 when she created the first orca catalogue for our area. She set up the non-profit organisation Orca Guardians to help spread the word about her work. Each orca can be identified by the dorsal fin and also the grey saddle patch behind the fin, which often has marks and scars. Using photo ID we have learned more and more about the family groups of orcas that move between Iceland and Scotland and feed on different food in each area. Orcas have also been matched much further than Scotland using photo ID.
More information and the most recent catalogue can be found on the Orca Guardians website: https://orcaguardians.org/orca-id-catalogues/
Also in Ólafsvík Karl O’Neill has created a catalogue of sperm whale photo ID. Little is known about the sperm whales we see in west Iceland. Using patterns on the edge of the whale’s tail and other markings on the tail individuals can be identified to try and understand more about the male sperm whales we see in the fjord. Male sperm whales come to Iceland from warmer areas where they were born and we now have at least one match with a sperm whale seen off Iceland who was also seen off the Azores Islands off Portugal.
In Hólmavík, Westfjords Judith Scott has created this first photo-ID guide for the humpbacks seen in this small fjord. Until Láki Tours started the whale watch in Hólmavík nothing was known about the individual humpback whales that use this fjord to feed, such as number of individuals and how long they stay. With the humpbacks we use black and white patterns on the bottom of the tail to identify the individuals. Humpback whales migrate long distances for feeding and breeding, so sharing these photos with other researchers allows us to learn more about there they go to breed. We know some of the humpbacks we have seen from Hólmavík migrate all the way to the Caribbean in winter.
IceWhale (Icelandic Association of Whale Watcher’s) Conferences 2015
22.02.2015: We just came back from two days in Reykjavík where we participated in the IceWhale (Icelandic Association of Whale Watcher’s) conference. We listened to a lot of very good talks – mostly on the topics of onboard education, marketing issues, and whale watching guidelines – and gave some presentations ourselves (Marie on killer whale watching laws and guidelines in Canada/the US, and on the code of conduct for responsible whale watching that Láki Tours has already used for a long time).
The ultimate goal of the conference was to get all whale watching companies that are involved with IceWhale to sign a whale watching code of conduct for Iceland and pledge themselves to adhere to certain standards for speed, distance, and approach when watching whales. Gísli, who is the chairman of IceWhale, played a key role in this process, and took the lead in welcoming the ambassadors of both the British and the US embassy who attended the formal signing of the code of conduct, as well as the Icelandic Minister of Industry and Commerce, with a festive speech. At the end, eight whale watching companies signed the code of conduct! This is a major step for the development of sustainable whale watching in Iceland, and we are delighted with the outcome of this meeting! Now this code of conduct needs to be implemented by all whale watching companies equally in practice and made available to private boaters as well.
Congratulations to the IceWhale committee for an outstanding achievement, and thank you to all supporters in the process.
Láki Tours Passenger Survey Presented at Third IceWhale Conference
28.09.2015: We would like to thank all passengers that have participated in our onboard survey during the last summer season! Last Friday we presented the results of this survey at the IceWhale seminar in Reykjavík. (IceWhale is the Icelandic Whale Watching Association and one of its tasks is to bring all whale watching companies together to discuss topics on conservation, research, management, commercial aspects etc.) As a result of our survey, we had a great majority of 93% of our participants speaking out in favor of our new Icelandic Code of Conduct and against disturbance of the animals we are watching. It’s very valuable for us and other whale watching companies in Iceland to know that most passengers would choose to rather stay further away if there is a potential disturbance to the whales – and watch them from a distance displaying natural behavior instead of harrassing them for a close look. A lot of our onboard participants gave great additional input and also rated our company according to their experiences. Thank you all again, you really made a difference!
This survey will be ongoing during the winter season with modified questions and in cooperation with the department of environmental psychology of the University of Bielefeld. We hope for just as much interest and participation during the winter season as we had in the summer.
More information about the first Orca ID Catalogue, Edition 2015
08.02.2015: In the first edition of our orca ID catalogue you can find pictures of most of the killer whales we have encountered during the last three seasons, in fact, of 100 individuals. If you have been on a tour with orca sightings you can now compare the pictures you have taken yourself to the pictures of the family groups in the catalogue to find out which ones you have seen. Have you been on one of our summer tours and seen little baby “Rainbow” (SN004) with its family? Or maybe you have spotted the two big brothers “Boromir” (SN044) and “Faramir” (SN045) that come to Snæfellsnes with their family in winter?
If you come on one of our future tours, we will have the catalogue ready for use on our boats to identify the killer whales we encounter right on the spot. We also welcome the use of the catalogue on board the boats of other Icelandic whale watching companies.
The catalogue has been sent to researchers and whale watching companies in several countries that have their own ID catalogues to see if there are matches between the populations. So far, we have not encountered any new matches apart from the (already known) conformity of a few individuals that are also seen in the Shetland Islands. But we will keep you updated!
We hope that this will help us track migration patterns of “our” killer whales. If you see killer whales in other parts of Iceland we would be very happy to hear about it – let us know on facebook or via e-mail which groups you have spotted!
You can download a free PDF copy of the catalogue’s first edition (2015) here: